Thursday 25 October 2012

Zen and the Art of Not Doing A Power Point

Was it only a week ago that I was sitting at Alan's table, at breakfast together over banana sandwiches and tea?  And yet, and yet, so very far apart, in different worlds, on our laptops?  It feels as if it were yesterday.  Oh how nice it feels to be so busy that time really does fly, how good it feels that Oh! I am so busy that I must be important.  I may be very important.  I think that I am, look and see, my diary is full of meetings, painting times, things to do, people to see, it is full of don't stop now things, you are far too busy and you may miss something appointments.  It is full to bursting with important engagements.  My little legs can hardly keep up.

This is what I am working on this week - it is hosted by LOROS, the Leicestershire and Rutland Organisation for the Relief of Suffering.  I am showing A Graceful Death  there for 3 days, and am opening the conference by being the first person to agree to not do a power point presentation.

The Spirit of Caring:  Spirituality and Well-being in End of Life Care

I set this week aside to prepare my talk.  Did I mention the power point?  Well, I bite my thumb at it.  I will do my talk without it, and this may be a good thing.  I will not rely on the computer, though the computer is excellent, I will rely on trying to talk sense from notes that I have made that now fit on a tiny piece of paper.  I have though, put some paintings up on the power point.  I will click onto those at some point and that will be good because there will be no words for people to read and so become distracted and not listen to me forgetting what I was talking about and telling them about my latest holiday instead.

I thought that I would be in a constant state of panic this week.  It is the last week to prepare the talk, finish two paintings, check the exhibition is still where I left it in bits and boxes all around the studio, and to update all the poetry and instructions.  (Instructions such as, take one of these and put some money in the box.  And sit down and listen to this.  And write your story here. And stop fidgeting).  But I am not panicking.  I have moments of anxiety when I want to go to bed and watch 999 What's Your Emergency on the laptop instead of working, but actually I am very calm.  I discovered Zen on Wikipedia this week, and I think I have become Zen. I am able to think quite clearly, and to prepare with a sense of Whatever.  Zen is concerned with what is, not with what I think or feel about what is.  Fine by me.  What is, is that I am not going to do a power point. 

And the exhibition is growing, I have music, film, and writing to add to it.  I have taken the poetry that was created during Penny Hewlett's excellent poetry workshops to a printer and he has made up a very nice little book for me to sell at the exhibitions. The printer, Charlie, has read this blog, and is therefore my new best friend.  I am grateful.  Hello Charlie.

So, I expected to be in a state of meltdown this week.  I am not, and I have not been so. I have found inspiration from all sorts of people and events recently, and I think I know what I am doing.  Good Lord!  Do you really?  You say while steadying yourself by holding onto the nearest firm object.  Do you really?  What, pray, are you doing?  Here is what I am doing.  I reserve the right to change my mind at any point and deny everything.

I am taking A Graceful Death to places that will benefit from the experience.  A Graceful Death is not just an exhibition, it is an experience.  It needs careful handling, the people who come to it need space to reflect, feel sad, and to express themselves in a creative and safe manner, should they wish to do so.  And so, to that end, I am taking the exhibition to conferences, organised events, and private functions.  To help express the emotions that come up during the exhibition, emotions of loss, grief, bereavement, memory, love, joy and recovery, there are Penny Hewlett's poetry workshops, Life Board workshops, musical events by Lizzie Hornby and I am looking into reading plays concerning end of life issues.  There are, in the pipeline, discussions, talks, debates and presentations by all sorts of people.  There are healthcare professionals, there are funeral directors, there are soul midwives, there are therapists, artists, healers, there is even a wise woman who really is wise and, obviously, a woman. This wise woman has much experience as a soul midwife and as someone who listens and gives advice to her community.  She too has agreed to come and work with A Graceful Death.  I am aiming to set up the exhibition next year in Bridport, to encompass all these amazing strands and to introduce Soul Midwifery to everyone.  There is even talk that Felicity Warner, teacher, writer and speaker on Soul Midwifery, may come and speak.  But Felicity has just had her new kitchen done, and may refuse to leave it for the next few years because it is so wonderful.  I am prepared for that.  I may come and set the exhibition up in her kitchen and say, There. You didn't expect that, did you?

I am speaking more on end of life matters.  I am speaking as Antonia, as someone who works in the community and observes.  I speak of the creative and spiritual responses that are needed amongst all of us who work with the dying, how to notice it and to stand your ground.  How not to run away thinking Phew!  Lucky escape.  Nearly showed me up there, nearly discovered I don't know anything.

And then, alongside that, I am still working as a commission artist.  I am still painting Angels for all sorts of occasions.  I am illustrating another book, a lovely and sweet children's book, which will be done by Christmas and published next year.  I would very much like to combine the Angels I paint with the A Graceful Death exhibition, and am looking to add that to the mixing pot. I am also working on a Jesus on the Tube commission to go to the USA.

But enough of that!  Tell me more of the froth in your life, you say!  Well, I am still doing Weight Watchers.  I have lost half the amount I am aiming for, so am half way there.  I am slowing down a bit, because I am slipping in the odd Indian meal and forgetting to tell anyone.  So it has been a loss of half a pound a week recently.  I am looking astonished at weigh ins, saying, it must be the scales.  I can't think why that should be only a half pound lost.  I have been so good.  I am starving myself, honest guv, on my life, I ain't even touched a cream puff.  However, the tyranny of having a big bum will soon be over.  Either I will achieve a nice little bottom and everyone will talk about it and admire me, or I will refuse to play any more, and with a bellow of rage like Obelix in Asterix the Gaul, lock myself in a Pizza factory overnight and refuse to come out even after a week.

My mother is terribly nice.  She asked for some distance healing and phoned me up after to say that she did indeed feel much better and wasn't that a clever thing that I did.  I have been stubbornly healing her daily now, whether she wants it or not.  Do you feel better Mum? I say on the phone.  Mum!  Did you get that?  Did it work?  Mum, are you alright now?  I am going to heal you at 3pm, cancel all your engagements and strap yourself down.  And to each call my dear old Mum, in her 80s, a devout Catholic and no one's fool, says Oh yes dear!  I do believe I am cured!  And, goodness me, aren't you clever.  I can walk!

When I phoned again this afternoon there was no reply.  She wasn't ill, my sharpened healer's instinct told me, she was hiding under the bed.

Time now to go back into the studio and rehearse my talk to myself.  That's the easy part.  I always agree with myself and am very encouraging.  What if I am faced with millions of pairs of eyes next week when I talk, and none of them agree with me?  I know what I will do.  People are always easier to handle when they are stunned.  I will whip out some cake making equipment and say to all, now, ladies and gentlemen, we are all going to make fairy cakes.

Friday 19 October 2012

Here I sit, in Alan's sitting room, late on a Thursday night, wondering if anyone will notice if I don't do the blog till Sunday.  But I know that you all get anxious on a Thursday night, wondering if I will do just that, delay the writing of the week's events, stringing you out until you cannot cope any longer, leaving you wringing your hands and calling your therapist for advice.  Oh it is a powerful position, that of a blogger.  And one that comes with responsibilities.  It is no excuse to have had such a large Indian meal that you can no longer move your arms.  It is no excuse to be unable to read the screen because your eyes are crossed for the same reason.  So I will struggle to stay upright, and battle on.  Burp.

A Graceful Death is going to Northampton.  I had a look at the venue on Monday, and was very excited to see a screen for projections (our AGD film) that covered an entire wall.  The effect will be hypnotic.  I will be there, normal sized, with my paintings in the room and on one entire wall I will be about 8' high and playing on a loop.  It is lucky that we are being given a small room to chill out and meditate on the themes of the exhibition;  it will be full of people trying to hide under the chairs.

I am preparing my talk too and have given up the idea of a power point.  It is giving me so much pain, that I may give a talk on how the power point has taken over my brain and I am its victim - and this without even knowing if it is on my computer or not.  So, my talk will be from the heart, and I will speak on Spirituality. I think that it is such a simple need, such a simple subject,  and mostly we miss the clues.  I walked into a patient's room recently, a man in his 60s, lying with his back to the door.  I had not met him before, he had recently arrived.  He turned round as I came into his room and said, does it matter that I have taught so many young people, do any of them remember what I said?  Does any of this matter?  I didn't know, and I said that I didn't know.  But what I thought was, this is a spiritual moment.  What do you think?  I asked him.  Does it matter to you?  I used to teach survival techniques in nature, he said.  And now I am here and I will not leave this place.  Was any of it any use?

The next time I went in to see him, he said that he was sorry, his breathing was too difficult to talk.  He was not able to speak again and I do not know if he found any resolutions for his questions.  But I was taught something by him, of the need to recognise the moment, and listen with all my attention.  Yes, I say to his memory, you were still teaching, I was your last pupil.

Today and tomorrow I am finishing my part one Doula for the Dying course in Lewes with Hermoine Elliot and the Living Well Dying Well Foundation.  I have trained with Felicity Warner as a Soul Midwife, and am very happy to have all that I have learned with Felicity affirmed and expanded by Hermoine's excellent course.  One of the best things about these two courses is the people I meet on them.  We are determined and inspired to work with the dying, supporting each other with kindness and love as we try to carve a niche for ourselves and work effectively after our courses.  And it is not easy, I may add.  Ooooh no.  There is so much to learn and such a long slow road to travel.  To be effective we need experience and to get experience we need time and opportunity.  And we need to to ask ourselves constantly, What am I doing?  Am I effective? 

The next day.  Friday morning.

Here I sit, at the breakfast table with Alan, both of us on our laptops, a modern couple.  I have a whopper of a day ahead.  I feel very happy at this breakfast table, it is rather nice to be so modern, so busy, so time-poor that we cannot chat over our banana sandwiches and tea.  Alan is an introvert and I am an extrovert.  I can imagine that documents and important papers are a better option than a bouncing extrovert saying Hi!  Hello.  Look at me! This is what I am going to say.  Hi!  Oooh hoo!  Here are all my thoughts and here is what I think of everything and let's boogie!  Today, I too am on my laptop and feel a sense of real companionship as I tap away publicly blogging about myself, and he taps away on very important tennis business followed by very important invoices.

The whopper part of the day is to leave Lewes this afternoon, drive to Winchester, have dinner with my elderly aunt, her sister, my other elderly aunt and my father, all of whom are together for the first time in many many years, and all of whom will be exhausted by now having been together eyeball to eyeball for the last few days.  My dear father, the youngest at 80, gets very confused and muddled.  I am going to drive from Lewes, dine with all of them in Winchester (a real treat, they are remarkable people), take Dad from Winchester to Teddington where he lives, drop him off and drive back to Bognor Regis.

Yes.  I will go to Heaven. 

And Alan has just looked up from his laptop, to me on mine, across the tiny breakfast table and said, not My dear, how fine you look today.  Or, Do have a lovely last day at your course and go safely as you drive across the country tonight oh wonderful taxi driver.  No, Alan said, it's 8.54 and you are going to be late.

I am going to text him now that I am off, and later I will email him about how my day has been. 

And the blog has been posted on the Friday as promised.  Now I must away.  Bye bye Alan, if I forget to text you, I am off now, see you soon xxx.

Friday 12 October 2012

Hollerin, Hooverin and Galloping Around

Very soon, I go and collect the incomparable Eileen Rafferty from Bognor Regis station.  She will arrive to a house that is now a graveyard for fleas.  I have until the 17th of this month before I can hoover and wash the floors and carpets, but today,  I gave in.  Once the pest control fellows had covered the whole house in flea exterminator, I was told to leave everything in place for 21 days.  Those 21 days would have been up on Wednesday next but Eileen sent me a message this morning to say that she would be at Bognor this evening, and I thought, I am giving in.  Eileen may or may not get fleas this weekend, but my nerves cannot stand the humiliation of showing her my filthy home. It was never like this for Doris Day. So I hoovered downstairs at 9.30 this morning, and I hoovered upstairs at 4.30 this afternoon.  I feel many stones lighter and a good deal younger now.  I can hold my head up high and say to Eileen when I go and collect her, I live like Doris Day, Eileen Rafferty, spotless and perfect in every way.  This is a home where standards prevail and I am at the top of my tree.  See your reflection in my floors, and tremble.

I have been aware of changes on the horizon.  It is like watching an army of horsemen gathering just there, in the distance, jostling and stamping and waiting for the order to charge. The order to charge came this week, and though it is a friendly charge, it is alarming all the same.  The horsemen represent projects and ideas and events and paintings, all of which to be done by me soon, and at once.  I heard the thundering of the hooves of the charging horsemen a week ago and blow me down, they are all a whooping and a hollering and galloping this way and that around me now, and I don't know which way to turn first.  I seem to have said Yes! to everyone that passed me recently and asked me to do something.  Yes! I said with a cheery grin, I'm the one!  Don't mind if I do! Will you, someone said, do me a painting.  Yes!  Can I have one too? Yes!  Will you come and join a panel in Oxford to be and expert on spirituality and end of life matters?  Yes! Will you come to my conference? Yes!  Will you come on my course?  Yes! Will you leave your course in Lewes, drive to Winchester for 6pm, pick up your Dad, take him to Teddington and then drive back to Bognor Regis?  Yes!  And so it goes on.  I think I will give you a breakdown of things that I am doing right now.  We will do it in bullet form and I will be terse and informative.  This is the result of having horsemen whoopin and a hollerin around me everywhere I look.  It concentrates the mind amazingly.

  • Saturday 27 October, I join a panel in Oxford as an expert (whoop whoop holler holler) on spirituality in the end of life.  We watch Nell Dunns play Home Death and answer questions afterwards.  At the Pegasus Theatre, Magdalene Road, OX4 1RE.  From 4.15 to 6.30
  • Before I go to the Pegasus Theatre I am having lunch with an old school friend who lives and works in Oxford, whom I have not seen since 1904 and probably won't recognise.  But, there is lunch involved and I know that we will recognise each other and go all silly and misbehave just as we were when we last saw each other, aged 16.  We will see if we can suck our lunches up through our noses and then fall off our chairs laughing before I will have to pick the pasta out of my hair and go and be an expert on something or other somewhere else.
  • Tuesday 30 October I go to Northampton to set up for the conference Spirit of Caring: Spirituality and Well-being in End of Life Care  I am showing the A Graceful Death exhibition there and addressing the conference on the Wednesday 31 October.  This is full of gravitas and I am on the one hand, so delighted to be talking on something that I feel strongly about, on the other hand I am having kittens because I am addressing real people who know more than me.  Subtext to this is -
  • I have no idea how to do a power point and have in my head, that if I don't do a power point presentation, due in only a few weeks time, I may die.  I need to talk this over with a sensible adult.  Thank you Eileen.
  • I have to finish the two new paintings for AGD, and have them photographed (thank you Eileen).   I am very nearly finished but both need the accompanying texts to be prepared, written, printed and laminated. 
  • There is poetry from a lady in Canada, and a wild essay on death by the gloriously outspoken writer Oliva Fane, to print and prepare.  There are also booklets to prepare and print.  I found a man called Chris who will do it all for me in his shop for a price.  I wonder if he can do power points and write presentations.  And paint.  Free me up nicely.
  • Cousin Maddy is meeting me at the venue on the 30th to help me set up.  She is watching me present the next day and then going home.  That is so helpful I am speechless briefly but not for long because I need to speak quite a lot on the 31st.
  • Eileen says I should practice my presentation on her tomorrow.  Brave.  Foolish.  Selfless.  Help.
  • Wednesday 14 November I take the AGD exhibition to Edinburgh Zoo to the annual Good Life Good Death Good Grief event  The information and poster is being created as we speak, so there is nothing as yet on the website about this event.  Does it exist?  I believe so.
  • It will take me two days to drive to the zoo and two days to drive back.  Staying with friends on the way there and on the way back. It will be like being on tour.
More horsemen come galloping up, slapping their thighs and laughing in the face of danger, and representing the following
  •  3 painting commissions
  • I more book to illustrate
  •  A soul midwife meeting to arrange
  • A new AGD exhibition and soul midwife education event in Bridport to organise for next year
  • A working alliance with the lovely Nigel, Soul Midwife and nurse in Brighton
  • Possible AGD work here in Chichester over Easter
  • Life Board workshops up and running from my dining room.  
Enough.  You are as overwhelmed as I am.  You can see why I hoovered my house.

Saturday 6 October 2012

The Quagmire of Ick and Brene Brown who is not even a bit in it.

Oh, you know, this week has had no form.  I remember on last Monday morning, writing my plans for the week ahead on the whiteboard in the studio, and feeling blank then.  I am not sure if I wrote anything more than the very basics of what I wanted to get done this week, in the vaguest of language.  For example, on Tuesday in the Family bit, it had "bath".  And in the Work bit of Tuesday it had "paint".   And now it is Saturday night.  Here I sit on my fancy sofa, my twinkly cushions all around me, having had a bath and put on my dressing gown that smells gloriously of scented washing liquid with added fabric softener and the essence of kitten laughter and snow;  here I sit and think what, what was it, that I did this week?

How about this then.  On Wednesday evening, a friend took me to see Prof Brene Brown talking about vulnerability, shame, guilt, love and hope.  Brene Brown is wonderfully amusing and clever.  Have a look at this

and now, I can't think straight.  I can't tell you anything at all about the week just gone, it feels as if my head is stuffed with cotton wool.  I loved seeing Brene Brown, and I think there is much in what she says about dealing with people who face dying.  When someone is facing their death, they are sometimes paralysed with vulnerability.  We, looking on, trying to help, may not understand this, we may not recognise it in them, nor in ourselves. We are ever so vulnerable too.  At the Hospice this week a parent that I had met just once a day before, said to me just hours after his daughter had died, will I recover?  I felt lost and vulnerable.  I didn't know what to say, I would love to have been knowing and right and the boss, but I was just a volunteer.  There was nothing I could say, and you know, one of the things that I felt was that of all the people to ask, I am the worst.  I am not a nurse, I am not a therapist, I am not trained and I don't know what to say or do.  So I hugged this father and held him tight and thought that nothing could be as bad as this for him ever again.

You may have to forgive this week's blog for being a bit below par.  I feel a bit below par.  There are butterflies in my tummy and I am trying to work out why they are there.  Here is what I have come up with.

  • The real success of flea treatment from the Pest Control Department is leaving the stuff they put on the floors untouched for 3 weeks.  No hoovering, no washing, no nuffink.  So now, a week later, I am beginning to feel the panic of a housewife who knows that very soon, she can write her name with her foot, in the detritus on the floor.  So, in my mind, my house is falling down around me.  I hate dirt and mess in the house, and feel if I have it under a bit of control, my mind will work and I will come up with full and complete ideas and not stint on the follow-through.
  • I am not Brene Brown who I think is really who I am meant to be.  Only she got there first.
  • I have a talk to do on Spirituality and Well Being at the End of Life.  I haven't started, and I keep not doing it.  It is for very soon and if I don't do it, I will have proved to myself that I should be fired by myself.  I had a horoscope done many years ago and one of the things that was recommended for me to do, for which I would be absolutely top notch, is running a typing agency.  I shall do that then.
  • I can't remember where anything is. 15 year old son thinks I am going to die soon. 
  • Older Son is gone from the house.  He has found a bedsit and a college place and has moved away.  Oh what a good thing this is, but I worry.  
  • Instead of doing my talk, I have said said to anyone and everyone, Oooh pick me!  Pick me! so I now have tons of meetings to go to and very important things to do for other people.  I have begun to ask anyone who is nice to me if they wouldn't mind writing the whole presentation for me, but no one really knows what I am talking about.  Not a good thing for someone who needs to get a message across.
  • What message?
I have just forced myself to do this week's plan.  I did it in green pen so that I would be happy when I look at it because I love the colour green.  It is a busy week, there is no doubt about that, and I hope that by this time next week I will be like Hilary Clinton, or Boudicca, or Elizabeth I, getting things done, with nice hair, and lots of authority.  But this week, I am lost in a quagmire of ick.  What a good title for an autobiography,  Lost In A Quagmire Of Ick, a life by Antonia Rolls.

As I was writing this, I looked to my left and there, waving the front two of its long legs at me, was a very large black spider.  It was just a breath away from my shoulder, on the sofa cushion next to me.  Think yourself lucky, it seemed to say with its legs testing the air in front of it, think yourself lucky.  I am a nice spider, full of charm and wit. I do a lot of volunteering too, and am very keen on green issues, but do you think it makes any difference?  No.  not a bit of it.  Despite the redoubtable character qualities that I possess, people run yelling Mama!  when they see me.  I am handicapped, don't you see, from the start.  But you, continued my noble spider, have everything.  No one runs yelling when they see you, and you do not have to hide your light under a bushell, as I do.  You can afford to go out there, do your stuff, and you are given chance after chance after chance.  All I get if I come out into the open, is a person with a hoover, or a broom, or a fly swat.  So buck up my darling, buck up.  An early night, a cup of tea, and tomorrow is all yours for the taking.

Mama! I yelled, Spider!  And then I felt guilty because it wasn't fair to tease it like that.  So I picked up the cushion and put the spider on the floor behind my sofa, and wished it good luck in its volunteering, and  climbed back on the sofa quick in case it came anywhere near me and I would have to hoover it.   You are right, large spider, I said to it from the sofa as I sat with my legs tucked up underneath me, not one part of me touching the floor - you are right.  Thank you, I will go to bed now, and let us hope that you find an equal amount of peace, there, under my sofa, as I will from my bed.  Just don't come out till I have left the room. 

And now, to leave you, the answer to this Quagmire of Ick.  This must have been magicked by the spider, who I think was a kind of guru.  Here is a quote from Heart Jewel by Geshe-La and sent to me by spider power and by my friend Gail on Facebook - thank you Gail, I am healed.
'Your mind of wisdom realizes the full extent of objects of knowledge, Your eloquent speech is the ear ornament of the fortunate, Your beautiful body is ablaze with the glory of renown, I prostrate to you, whom to see, to hear and to remember is so meaningful...' (from Heart Jewel - Geshe-La)
What I look like when in the Quagmire of Ick.  That is chocolate in my mouth. 
 And then, after the quote from Heart Jewel via Gail, and after the words of wisdom from Super Spider
On top of a mountain, a winner, with my three glorious brothers.